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Life minus e-mail would be good 4 me

November 17, 2008

When analyzing the failed Obama presidency, as some clairvoyant groups are already calling it, there is one thing that I believe we could all learn from: He says -- or at least his aides say -- he's giving up e-mail.

First smoking, now this. That has to count for something.

To be clear, the president-elect does not want to give up e-mail, according to a story in The New York Times. But he will likely be forced to do so for two reasons.

One is e-mail security, which is understandable. No sense asking the Pentagon to come up with a secret plan to bomb AIG when any 14-year-old hacker could spoil the surprise.

But more importantly, any and all e-mails would be subject to the Presidential Records Act, which means they would become part of the public record and open to public inspection.

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No president wants the embarrassment of having an e-mail that reads, "Can u believe rdskns went 4 it on fourth & 6? lol" finding its way into Vanity Fair.

But speaking personally, if becoming president is what it takes to be forced into abandoning e-mail, I think that's a risk I just might be willing to take.

Now to be fair, there are some aspects of e-mail I like, such as the degree to which it eliminates actual human contact -- which to me is a fairly big deal.

Someone e-mails me a column idea, it's a lot easier to write back, "Thank you for your thoughts; now never write me again," than it is to snooze through a 30-minute phone conversation about how I ought to write a "story" about how a barking dog saved a litter of bunnies from being run over by a mulching lawn mower.

So I get the upside of e-mail.

Still, if someone came up to me and explained that the Columnist Records Act made it unwise to use e-mail ever again, I doubt I would weep.

And it's not just the spam. By now, I think we've all learned to live with -- and mass-delete -- unwanted sales pitches. The mystery to me is that spam must work, or else they wouldn't do it. So someone out there is buying into the offers from lonely Russian hotties who want to get together for tea. No wonder this country is in so much trouble.

Or the actual offer of a profitable business deal signed by "Amanda Seck Jr." This shows how far globalization still has to go. Someone needs to get a memo to the hucksters in Singapore that, as a culture, Americans generally don't go around putting "Jr." after the last names of women.

No, what gets me about e-mail anymore is that it is a constant reminder of how bad things are. News organizations are always sending out "alerts" and the alerts are never good -- the Dow has dropped 2 percent in early trading; an earthquake has struck Honduras; Iran is launching nuclear rockets; Phil Gramm is still alive.

I would like to be able to sit at my desk for maybe an hour or two without being bombarded with 10 things to feel bad about. I liked the old way, when you got all the bad news at once in the morning paper and that left you free for the rest of the day to enjoy life.

But if no one comes along to tell me I can't use e-mail, I probably can't quit on my own, sad to say. There's no chewing gum to ease electronic addictions, no soothing herbs and no patches -- unless you're running Windows.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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